Wilson Center Experts

John D French

Fellow
Brazil Institute

Expertise:
Latin America
;
Brazil
Affiliation:
Associate Professor of History, Duke University; Director, Carolina and Duke Consortium in Latin American and Caribbean Studies (2002-2005)
Wilson Center Project(s):
"Building Movements in a World in Flux: Leadership, Consciousness, and Mobilization among Metalworkers in São Paulo, Brazil 1950-1980"
Term:
Sep 01, 2005
-
May 01, 2006

I was an undergraduate in "American" history in the early 1970s and grew discontented with the discipline's failure to contextualize U.S. and Western European histories within a broader geographical and historical terrain. My intellectual objective of transcending North Atlantic parochialism was achieved in graduate school by shifting my focus to Latin America. After studying in Mexico, I became a specialist in Brazil, with a population of 170 million in an area equal to the 48 contiguous U.S. states, at a time when that country was ruled by a military dictatorship that had come to power in 1964. Given my interest in political, social, and working class history, I studied the relationship between emerging urban working and middle classes and a style, program, and political culture that came to be known as populism. Fellowships from SSRC, Fulbright, and Inter-American Foundation supported sixteen months of field work in 1981-82 that produced my first book, The Brazilian Workers' ABC (1992), which was followed by a co-edited volume in 1997 entitled The Gendered Worlds of Latin American Women Workers. With support from ACLS, NEH, and the SSRC, I set out in the early 1990s to write the history of ABC's metalworkers union from 1950 to 1980. My plans underwent a welcome shift in focus during a 1995-96 National Humanities Center fellowship, when I took up the role of labor law in the politics of worker mobilization in Brazil. This led to my 2004 monograph Drowning in Laws: Labor Law and Brazilian Political Culture. Given the powerful myth of racial democracy in Brazil, as well as the overwhelmingly multi-racial composition of the working class, I have been drawn to explore the sophisticated comparative and interdisciplinary literature, going back to the 1930s, that contrasted race relations in the United States to Brazil, the last country in the Americas to abolish slavery (1888). Finally, I have increasingly focused on the intermestic (international and domestic) nature of contemporary global problems, with a special emphasis on debates regarding the regional, transnational, and comparative dynamics of today's global world economy. In the early 1990s, I co-directed a multinational research project entitled "Labor, Free Trade, and Economic Integration in the Americas: National Labor Union Responses to a Transnational World." This led me, starting in 1995, to tackle the larger lacuna in the literature: the ongoing controversies over worker rights in the World Trade Organization. The social dimension of the international trade and investment regime is the focus of my new book, entitled Globalizing Protest: The Fight for Worker Rights in World Trade, forthcoming from Duke University Press.The start of the new millennium is an exciting moment of transition in both intellectual and political terms. The world is on the move and old certainties have rightly entered into crisis, in both disciplinary, geopolitical, and theoretical terms. As we enter a new century, the time is right for bold moves and challenging gambles in a world where even powerful nations are tied ever more powerfully into transnational and international networks of production and exchange. The challenge is clear: how to foster a trans-regional and policy-relevant scholarly enterprise that aims for a truly global intellectual and scientific approach to the complexities of human societies in the past, present, and future.
 

Education

B.A. (1975) Magna cum laude, History, Amherst College; M.A. (1978) History, University of Pittsburgh; Ph.D. (1985) History, Yale University
 

Subjects

Brazil,Globalization,Race and Politics,World Trade Organization
 

Experience

  • Associate Professor of Latin American History, Duke University, 1995 to present
  • Director, the Duke Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, 2001-05
  • Visiting Professor at the Center for International Relations of the Colegio de México, 1995
  • Assistant Professor of Latin American History, Duke University 1992-95; Florida International University 1988-92; Utah State University 1985-87

Expertise

Dictatorship and democracy in Latin America; socio-legal studies and contemporary politics in Brazil; labor, free trade, and globalization; African New World Diaspora

Project Summary

A 32-year-old union president was catapulted to international prominence by a sequence of massive metalworkers strikes in the ABC region of São Paulo Brazil between 1978 and 1980. I explore the origin of these unexpected strikes which launched the career of Brazil's current President Luis Inácio da Silva ("Lula"). The historical trajectory of ABC's workers is examined, both before and during the military regime that ruled Brazil from 1964 to 1985, in order to better understand Lula's leadership and the self-fashioning that generated his unique public persona. A migrant to São Paulo born to desperate poverty, Lula was jailed as a subversive in 1980 but would go on to become Brazil's first working-class president in 2002, winning an unprecedented 63 percent of the national vote in the second round of the presidential election.

Major Publications

  • Drowning in Laws: Labor Law and Brazilian Political Culture (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, June 2004) Brazilian edition 2001
  • "From the Suites to the Streets: The Unexpected Re-emergence of the ‘Labor Question,' 1994-1999," Labor History, Vol. 43 #3 (2002), pp. 285-304
  • "The Missteps of Anti-Imperialist Reason: Bourdieu, Wacquant, and Hanchard's Orpheus and Power," Theory, Culture, & Society, Vol. 17 #1 (February 2000), pp. 107-128
  • The Gendered Worlds of Latin American Women Workers: From Household and Factory to the Union Hall and Ballot Box co-edited with Daniel James (Duke University Press, 1997)
  • The Brazilian Workers' ABC: Class Conflict and Alliances in Modern São Paulo (The University of North Carolina Press, 1992) Brazilian edition 1995

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